Reflecting on the truly great outdoors retreat (and news of future retreats)

Offering retreats by Zoom has been a blessing during these times of lockdown and social distancing, but it is not unusual at this stage to hear a slight groan at the prospect of more along with the phrase, 'I'm Zoomed out!'

Taking my own daily walk with my dog has been my salvation through these months. The changes through the seasons have been a joy to notice but, like many others, I have done these walks alone. Thus, an idea presented itself for a new retreat. How might we help others be attentive to God at work in creation and have the chance to share our love of the great outdoors with other like-minded people?

For some people, this is about admiring the detail of the natural world in silence and stillness; for other people, it might involve more activity, like enjoying a fast cycle ride or even hiking up a mountain. We hoped the retreat would reach people in both urban landscapes and the wilder places of the UK and beyond. There was room for everyone on this retreat.

We wanted people to make the most of daylight hours and to enjoy their time outdoors, whilst taking account of the current Covid restrictions. We met each evening over the weekend on Zoom. We spent time in prayer and reflection beginning with the wintry scene painted by Ecclesiasticus in chapter 43 18-22,27 with the words…

God sprinkles snow like birds alighting,

It comes down like the locusts settling.

The eye marvels at the beauty of its whiteness,

And the mind is amazed at its falling.

There was time in Zoom break-out rooms to share our experience of finding God in creation and suggestions for prayer for the next day. We encouraged people to carve out some quiet time in the morning to reflect on scripture, poems and images to begin their day with God. On the Saturday we encouraged them to focus on each of their senses in the outdoors that they might become more attentive to God's abundant generosity in nature. On the Sunday, we explored what gave rise to gratitude, wonder or that which made them feel fully alive.

'The balance of meditation, sharing and guidance was excellent' said one retreatant at the end of the weekend.  'The evening sessions were warm and encouraging and I enjoyed meeting others in small groups.' offered another. Reflecting on the Zoom call, one retreatant said, 'Sometimes prayer online does not allow enough time for silence. That wasn't the case at all in these sessions and quickly I recognised being in a 'safe' and recognisably Ignatian space which was just what I was looking for.

The weekend closed by writing a kind of psalm together that we could all pray beyond the retreat. We also enjoyed one another's photographs and there was a sense of having been to other places beyond our own locality during the course of the weekend. We had seen swollen rivers, views from hilltops, frozen vegetation, tunnels of trees, greener than green fungi and even jackfruit growing in Singapore!

We hope to follow through on the Winter Retreat with similar online weekends for Spring - April 15th-17th, Summer - July 9th-11th and Autumn Oct 22-24th (to be confirmed). Watch this space for more news of these.

For those who would like to look forward to an event in-person, we are offering 'Walking Retreats' at St Beuno's Jesuit Spirituality Centre in June (7th-11th) and a weekend in September (10th-12th). We will explore the Clwydian hills and valley on foot and look out for God along the way.

These retreats are for anyone who loves being active in the Truly Great Outdoors. They are particularly for those who are new to the idea of a retreat and want to enter in through their passion for the natural world. People who just love to be out in all weathers and still be joyful may like to try the next one!

Sarah Young,

Jesuit Spirituality Team